And The Stars, And the Earth

Impending Storm
Annaliese

Church Record, St. Martindale-by-Hollow in the Realm of Caritus, Worldly Angel of Mercy
Gibbous Moon, Culling Season

Though it’s only a word, ‘gibbous’ has always sounded ominous to me. It’s turned out to be portentous enough, these last days have been full of signs of change to come. Rumors of the Earth Temple restored, rumblings of a new Queen Under the Mountain, strangers on the roads— all things in order. Let me start with the market.

The town center is always full of friends and neighbors when we’re due for another market; even Wolfe and Irena come down from the hills, but this time we were missing a friend and a few were behaving… less than neighborly. The vintner Desjardins and his daughter had a rather sharp spat over something Catherine said she saw. She’s blessed with an imagination, certainly, but what she saw, what he thought she’d invented, was troubling. A man walking up the old road near the crooked tree, she said, with something reflective on his chest. Jean-Michel struck her in his anger, though that anger sprang from fear. Some forty years back, it was his brothers who caught and were sorely hurt by the last man who walked out from the Strawfield. The church record says the madman ranted and raved and fought them, and they left him chained in their barn to pass the night. They found him in the morning, dead, with his stomach full of straw. The record holds that he’s buried near the crossroads.

There’s some investigation to be done there, and quickly. Some of Desjardin’s cattle have taken ill or died, and he’s grown worried. He’s asked that Irena, Zabine and I investigate, which, of course, we will. Something else drew our attention first, though.

Lady Jocasta wasn’t at the market, and it’s rare for her to miss it. Her father and Isselmeer were quite concerned. They explained that she’s been behaving strangely and asked for our help. Late night rides, lost memory, and no concern for either, they said. Mikkel saw her recently, and when I pressed, he mentioned a list of strange materials she’s been buying from him. Supplies. A mushroom Zabine knows, for inducing trances, and herbs and candles. Irena mentioned a locket that Pontus had her retrieve a year ago— starmetal, bearing the crest of House mac Mordaigh and with Jocasta’s name inside. She and Zabine bought it back from him, and a mercy it is he let them take it. We’d not have gotten her back without it.

Lady Jo, as it turns out, is a changeling. A foundling, rescued from what may have been a terrible fate at the hands of the soulless fey by our own Squire. She was bound to wonder where she came from eventually. We’d have never known if Zabine hadn’t managed to get the Squire to tell her the story. We’d have never found her, either, if it weren’t for Irena’s skill in tracking. We ended up pursuing her into the swamp to find her speaking with a man with the head of an owl. Fey, and tricky as any— he fled with her and we chased them to the ruins to find them with another owl-fey, arguing. A slip of my own unlucky feet gave us away and we had to jump into the fray at once. It was only through an exchange of sorts, the name of the mother in place of Jo’s, that we broke their hold on her with the starmetal pendant. We left it up to her to choose whether to go or stay, as was only right. Mercifully, her better sense won out and she returned with us.

I was surprised the fey man let us go with only a few dire predictions. More straw, he says. I’m a priestess, not a prophet, but I feared as much.

Humanitas, Lady of Kindness, keep our hearts with our friends and neighbors that we may face the coming days together. Industria, Lady of Diligence, move our hands to help, for we can bring no mercy nor show kindness without work. Caritus, Angel of Mercy, lead our minds to know in these coming days that change can be a mercy, too, for these are fearsome signs of an impending storm.


Ah, I’ve left something out. When I sought out Jocasta’s baptism in our record, her mother’s name wasn’t listed. I had expected as much. But when I returned to the church before we tracked Jo to the swamp, there was a light in the annex. It can be assumed, but I’ll mention it here anyway: I never leave candles burning.

I had closed the book, but it lay open to the page with her record on it. An addition had been made. There, in familiar hand, was a name in ancient elven script. It would have been a much fiercer fight to bring home our young lady without it.

Thank you, Brother Solomon. I don’t know how you knew that bit of information, or that we needed it, or how you lit a candle and left a message… I’m not sure I want to know, come to think of it. You’re supposed to be keeping vigil at the Strawfield now, at rest from worldly tasks. I’ll leave the last of the late-blooming flowers in the chapel in your honor tomorrow.

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The Changing of the Guard
Annaliese

Church Record, St. Martindale-by-Hollow in the Realm of Caritus, Worldly Angel of Mercy
Waning Moon, Mid-Planting

I have returned from Crowcry Watch.
It was an unusually cryptic task to which I was set this morning— to seek out among the good folk of the town five things. “Ask them for something, but warn them that they’ll not receive it back” was Brother Solomon’s charge. The people of St. Martindale are charitable and, though the question was passing strange, they did not refuse. Archie seemed to know more about what was going on than I. He offered a book of psalms and a very grim expression with it. From the de Luytes, a barley seed; from Celes, a bit of copper she’d practiced her engraving on; from Irena, the end of a ball of yarn; and Zabine thoughtfully gave me a totem of her own making. Humanitas surely smiles upon my neighbors for their kindness. Further instructions sent me to borrow a horse, and to proceed with these five things and a wrapped package to the watchtower at the Strawfield.

Even the bravest among us spends as little time at the border between Mercy and Death as possible; I have never called myself brave, but I trusted that if it weren’t necessary I’d not have been sent on such an errand. Humility bears us up when courage fails us, and so I borrowed the Halmskjalds’ draft horse and walked the league south to the watchtower. The gate is badly rusted, and the door in the floor is still bolted tight. The five things I was given became offerings as I climbed the tower— an altar for each virtue mark the landings on the stairs. Chastity, Temperance, Diligence, Patience, and Charity received the gifts from my neighbors. The sixth was an offering of my own, for Kindness.

That left Humility, and the gift I’d yet to see. The top of the tower overlooks the Strawfield; the army of sentinels are a terrifying sight to behold. I pray Death may also find them so. I must from this point be brief, for in my sorrow I’ve written too long already.

You’ll find the record now kept in another hand; a new scarecrow stands at the top of Crowcry Watch. The church bells echo in the Hollow still, and I am left alone in my grief.

St. Martindale mourns Brother Solomon.

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On The Lost City

We have walked the streets of a city long dead. This was a great capital once; the streets above the surface broader and with grander statues than any built within the past hundred years. These are merely the skin of the fruit, beautiful and enticing, yet thin and insubstantial compared to the flesh beneath. By all appearances, that sweetness has been sealed for good; an earthquake shook this place long ago. The heart of the capital would have been devastated.

We are not the only ones in this land; a bandit company down from the Chaos kingdom lurks here. This is likely their main camp, where they return from outposts closer to richer targets. There is also a mysterious company of dwarves or something like them in these canyons. There was a dancing automaton at court, a gift from a dwarven king in ages past, that danced as beautifully as the day it arrived, or so the legend went. Perhaps these are its kin.

I think we are alone, or at least more alone, here before the cavernous dark of the Earth temple. We stand under the eyes of the angel of Earth, a blaze of gems set into an impossible height on the wall. Before us? Who knows. The legends say demons, devils, vengeful spirits – what I know is that here I stand on the threshold of salvation or death.

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On The Events of Last Autumn
From the Monastary of St. Fedahin

Dear Brother Abisola,

I hope this missive finds you well; I apologize for not writing sooner, but events have moved at their own unpredictable pace, of late. In my last letter I detailed the plot against our beloved abbot on the part of monks whose names have been decreed by His Eminence damnatio memoriae. Thus, you will not see me speak of them further here. Suffice to say their wicked plans failed, and justice has been meted out accordingly.

Of the three lady adventurers, however, I would speak a few words.

The witch is not, in fact, a witch. She is a druid, of the Cloud Rite, by my estimates. She bears the marks of the School of the Unfettered Sky and her accent marks her as a native of the once-Kingdom of the Air. Her abilities were instrumental in securing the Tome of Echoes and defeating the demon summoned by the heretics’ recklessness.

I am inclined to think that she is related to the knave-elf that proved so adept at picking locks and sussing out alchemical plots. This I could deduce from their mutual body language. The thief, Cat, makes a fine attempt at a Waterlands accent, but her soft ’s’s give her away as another Air native. She is clever, and dangerous.

The warrioress is something more of a puzzle. If I were to hazard a guess I would place her in those northern hinterlands where the border once ran hazy between Earth, Wrath, and Order, when there were borders at all. She was strong, determined. Not subtle, but chain demons require such a lack of subtlety. The abbot sensed a longing in her, a need. Romantically I might call it a destiny.

As I detailed in my previous note, they have been laden with a geas by a dead dwarven king. You can guess which one. They’re on their way to the Temple now, Angels and God preserve and defend them. The abbot has promised all support to them, should they succeed where so many others have failed.

He is certain that is not a promise he will need to fulfill.

I… am not so sure.

The ground shifts beneath us. We live in interesting times.

May Earth Preserve You,
Brother Xenn

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Prologue

Our family was sworn to serve, and had been since the angels walked the earth. That was the line they fed us, and for a long time, we believed it. It was easy to believe in the glory of the houses of the Kingdom of Air then; we were young, and did not know that the fine halls we walked were echoing empty, the colorful silks were cleverly refashioned to hide their frays and patches, and the grand feasts were cooked with food taken from others’ mouths.

We knew no such need, for they found us to be of use. For some time, I thought that I had been honored with a more respectable path; Ari labored with the birds and hounds, while I frequented ballrooms and greeted ambassadors. To my credit, I had learned my role before I was slipped a vial of viscous clear liquid and told to ensure a rival lord did not appear at the conclave to select the new Lord of the Sky. All the houses had their spies and agents.

Trained as such for as long as I have memories, I am not in the habit of detailing my exploits. A written account could be used as evidence against me or my liege. Although I have as many doubts as I have ever had, I am marked for death. Perhaps it is now time to leave some record of what I have done. By my best figuring, I have twelve moons left. Some small part of my actions brought down the Lord of the Sky. The only way I’ll see that twelfth moon is to raise up the King Under the Mountain.

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The Jade and the Jackal
Colfer the Bard Tells you a Tale

O gather round, brothers, I’ll tell you a tale, of those three who came running o’er soft autumn vale, the sparrowhawk, eagle, and lark

To a town filled with honor, and danger, and vice, where coin filled those coffers of verdigris ice, and where men and dwarf trembled at dark

For one was a sellsword, and one was a witch, and one was a swindler with fingers a’twitch, and all with a curse old as Time, as Time

Oh the heaviest curse, old as Time…

Stand and hear, comrades and enemies, ladies and gentlemen, lords and paupers, and lend if you will a humble ear to your humble interlocutor, and I’ll tell you a story.

It’s a story of a town, that had wealth measured in thick ledgers, and grief measured in bitter tears. It’s a story about a mayor, who was weak with years but strong and noble with honor and decency. It’s about monsters, who stole men’s breath from their lungs and replaced it with thick green rock. And it’s about monsters, who stole men’s souls from their chests and replaced it with thick, black hate. And it’s about monsters who stole men’s honor from their families, and replaced it with heavy, counterfeit coin.

But it is not a sad story. It’s a tale of mad hermits in whose madness is divinest sense. It’s got lost heirs who earn their respect through toil and character, not blood and breeding. There are kind souls, and three almost heroes, and there’s a hell of a fight or two.

Sieges? Kidnappings? Ancient evil, blackmail, gnomes, ballistae, hangings, righteous revenge?

Too good to be true? Ah, no, comrades. Too true to be anything but great. Now sit, and drink.

And listen.

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